Coffee is the most popular drink globally, with an estimated 2 billion cups drunk every day. We do our fair share here in the UK to contribute to that number by drinking 95 million cups daily.
Have you ever stopped to consider where your coffee comes from or what life is like for coffee farmers?
Around 70% of the coffee we drink is produced by family farmers working small plots of land. According to a 2019 study by fairtrade international, coffee farmers are paid on average $1 per pound of coffee beans they sell. This is half the amount they need to generate a living income and means that a large percentage are selling below the cost of production.
Our blog ‘How To Find Truly Ethically Sourced Coffee‘ has lots more information on the problem and explains what you need to look for when buying coffee to help ensure farmers get paid a fair price.
In this post, we set ourselves the enjoyable task of sampling some of the best fairtrade coffee from ethical coffee companies in the UK.
Brands have to demonstrate a clear commitment to sourcing their coffee ethically and sustainably to make it onto our list. This means that coffee farmers are paid a fair price for their produce, and care is taken to manage and improve the environment in the communities where the coffee is grown.
We’ve tried and tested blends from 8 ethical coffee companies. If we’ve missed your favourite from the list, please let us know in the comments section at the end of the post.
Exhale Healthy Coffee
Exhale Healthy Coffee offers something a little bit different from your standard morning caffeine hit. As well as being great tasting, it’s also good for you as Exhale Healthy Coffee has spent five years developing a unique process that locks in beneficial natural plant chemicals. The results are a coffee that provides an impressive hit of antioxidants – so much in fact that one cup of Exhale Healthy Coffee has the same level of antioxidants as 12 punnets of blueberries, 55 oranges or 1.2kg of kale.
The company is also working hard on their ethical credentials and are aiming to become B Corp certified. If you’re not familiar with B Corp, it’s a globally recognised certification that is awarded to businesses that focus on more than just profits. To gain a certification, a company must consider the effect of their choices on their employees, customers, suppliers, the community, and the environment. As a consumer, it’s a good logo to watch for when you’re looking for ethical brands to support.
Exhale Healthy Coffee use only plastic-free packaging produced from FSC certified paper. Their coffee is organically grown, which is better for the environment and better for the coffee and means no nasty chemicals are used during farming.
Exhale Coffee currently have three options, the Finca Nueva Esperanza, the Decaf Finca Nueva Esperanza and the newly released Espresso Roast Finca Nueva Esperanza Coffee.
We tried the Espresso Roast as we like our coffee with a bit of a kick (especially in the morning!), and this blend certainly doesn’t disappoint. This organic coffee is grown in Mexico and has a full flavour which we really enjoyed. You’d never know you were drinking a healthy coffee, and there is certainly no compromising on taste by choosing Exhale.
A great way to start your day, a coffee that not only tastes amazing but also has some serious health benefits.
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Pact Coffee was founded in 2012 and are one of the pioneers of the direct trade model. As we mentioned at the start of this post, most coffee farmers are vastly underpaid for the coffee they grow. One of the main causes for this is the number of stages in the coffee supply chain. With each stage taking their cut and driving down the price to help boost profits. The founder of Pact Cofee recognised this issue and cut out the supply chain, building relationships directly with the coffee growers.
By working with farmers in this way, Pact Coffee can pay a premium for the product with a pledge to pay at least 25% above the Fairtrade base price.
Pact Coffee now works with over 150 farmers from 9+ origins producing an impressive array of blends for every coffee drinking taste.
You’re spoilt for choice at Pact, so if you like to try different blends and keep a few in the cupboard, then this could be the coffee brand for you. We went for the Zaroca blend from Brazil as it was described as having hints of dark chocolate and cocoa nibs, and frankly, we were sold!
This was a very drinkable coffee that could easily be enjoyed at any time of day. The dark chocolate from the description was picked up even by our unsophisticated pallets, and we also found it to have a slight sweetness.
The Zaroca blend was excellent but might be a bit punchy for some people. However, Pact Coffee have a great range and whatever your coffee preference, you’re sure to find one (or several) you enjoy.
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RISE Coffee Box
Rise is a Coffee subscription service that sources premium coffee from UK roasters. They offer weekly, fortnightly, monthly or bi-monthly subscriptions with each delivery consisting of 2 packs of speciality coffee which the founders, Ben and Alice, have handpicked themselves. You also get information about the coffee roasters and some tasty treats such as Doisy & Dam or one of our favourites, Tony’s Chocolony.
The coffee that Rise select is either fairtrade, or the roasters have direct relationships with the coffee farmers and pay above the fairtrade price. Your coffee delivery will arrive in fully recyclable packaging that has been produced from a minimum of 90% recycled material.
As Rise is a subscription service, you receive different delicious blends of coffee each month. If you enjoy sampling fresh new coffee tastes, then this is an ideal choice. Ben and Alice blind test and handpick only the very best premium coffee blends. All you have to do is sit back and wait for the postie to arrive!
A Rise subscription is perfect if you want to sample the best coffee from UK roasters.
Volcano Coffee Works
Volcano Coffee Works are one of the more established ethical coffee companies on our list, having been established in 2010 by New Zealand chef Kurt Stewart.
Kurt started the business from a coffee cart, selling on the streets of West Norwood. Today, Volcano Coffee Works have an ethical roastery in Brixton that employs over 30 people and supplies cafés, restaurants and offices across London.
The brand source directly from coffee farmers paying a fixed price per kilo that is roughly double the fairtrade price. They also operate long-term contacts to give the farmers stability, allowing them to invest in the environment and their local communities.
The brand is carbon neutral and has several schemes to help its staff be more environmentally friendly such as a company bike scheme.
There is a great range available to suit all coffee drinking taste buds. We opted for the Firehouse Blend as, to be honest, we liked the name, and it was rated 5/5 on the handy strength guide shown for each blend of the website.
This is another fantastic blend if you like your coffee strong. Rocket Roast from Presto has a fraction more punch, but we still found Firehouse to be more than enough for our strong coffee-loving palettes. It’s a very rich blend with a slight bitterness, and there is a sweet cinnamon hint to it.
A stunning blend from a company that ticks all the ethical boxes.
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Presto is an award-winning coffee roaster that works directly with the farmers to ensure they are paid a fair price. They are members of the 1% for the Planet scheme, which means 1% of their turnover is donated to environmental nonprofit organisations. They are working towards B Corp certification, which is an excellent sign that a company is ethical.
In Mach 2021, Presto moved to 100% recyclable packaging. Their bags are now made of the same soft plastic materials as carrier bags or bread bags and can be easily recycled at most major supermarkets or local authority recycling centres.
One thing we haven’t tried (but certainly intend to) is their instant coffee which the Independent gave a best buy award. We don’t tend to drink much instant coffee, but this sounds delicious, and we want to see if it can change our view on instants!
At the time of writing this review, Presto had five blends plus a decaf to choose from. We opted for the Rocket Roast, grown in Vietnam, which was described as having hints of dark chocolate and fruits.
It didn’t disappoint! Rocket Roast is definitely strong, probably too much for some people, but if you like a punchy coffee, this is a fabulous blend.
A lovely aroma with a taste reminds us of a classic Italian Espresso. This is a great blend to get you going in the morning and one of the very best we tried.
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Craft Coffee Club
The Craft Coffee Club are another of the new coffee subscription services. You can choose from a monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly subscription. Each delivery contains two 250g bags of speciality coffee, treats from British artisan brands, and a magazine with details about the coffee, tasting notes, and recipe ideas.
The Craft Coffee Club pay better than Fairtrade prices and work directly with coffee farmers supporting their local communities through donations. All the packaging used is fully compostable, and the brand is working towards being carbon neutral.
All coffee included in the subscription is rated as being in the top 5% worldwide, so you are guaranteed only the very finest blends. The beans are typically sourced from micro-lots, which are transported to the UK and roasted by independent specialist roasters.
If you love sampling new and exciting coffee blends, then you won’t be disappointed by a Craft Coffee Club subscription. Not only will you get great ethical coffee, but you also get delicious treats in every box and the knowledge that your purchase is helping to support coffee-growing communities across the world.
Café Direct are the biggest and most established of the ethical coffee companies on our list. The brand was established in 1991 as a response to the collapse of global coffee prices by Oxfam, Traidcraft, Equal Exchange and Twin Trading. The aim was to trade directly with growers, cutting out the inflated coffee supply chain. Over the last 30 years, they have been able to give back over £30 million to their growers to improve livelihoods and support communities.
Café Direct can now be found in nearly every major supermarket in the UK, and the range has expanded significantly from its early days. They now boast several coffee ranges, from small batch to single-origin blends, as well as freeze-dried instant coffee, hot chocolate and a fast-expanding tea business. All products are fairtrade, and over 50% of the coffee is now organically grown.
As you’d expect from such an established ethical brand, the coffee range is extensive, with a blend for everyone. We opted for the relatively new Mayan Gold, available in ground or whole bean varieties online or from most big supermarkets.
The beans are sourced from Mexico, and the coffee is rated as a 5 for strength. The Café Direct website says we should expect Mayan Gold to be “smooth and dark with a caramel sweetness”, and this is precisely what you get.
Although it’s a strong coffee, it’s a step down from some of the others on this list, but that’s not a criticism. It’s very drinkable, and as it doesn’t pack such a punch, you can enjoy a few more cups than perhaps you could with stronger blends we’ve tried. It has a lovely aroma and a slight bitterness that balances nicely with sweet caramel notes.
If you just want to pop to your local supermarket and pick up a good quality coffee with strong ethical credentials, then this could be the brand for you. We really enjoyed the Mayan Gold, but there are plenty of options in the Café Direct range that will suit all pallets. Café Direct is also lower priced than many of the other brands on the list, so overall it’s a fantastic choice.
Kingdom Coffee is one of the older ethical coffee brands on our list, founded in 1998. Much like Café Direct, they were launched to promote fairtrade and fairness in the coffee industry by ensuring farmers are paid fairly for their coffee crops.
They boast an impressive list of ethical accreditations, including Soil Association, Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and Organic certification.
The way Kingdom Coffee roasts its beans sets them apart from many other companies on our list. Instead of the traditional drum roasting technique, they use a state of the art air roaster. During this process, the outer layer of the coffee bean, known as the chaff, is removed. In traditional coffee roasting, the chaff is burnt onto the coffee bean. Removing this outer layer produces a sweeter, smoother coffee that has less bitterness typical among many blends.
Another advantage of this roasting method is a reduction of around 30% in energy consumption.
Kingdom Coffee has one of the largest coffee selections we’ve seen with a great choice of beans, ground coffee, instant and capsules. We went for the Italia Super Crema Beans, which their website describes as “Like Lavazza” coffee.
Italia Super Crema is a robusta blend, that is incredibly smooth with a rich, deep taste. It’s very easy to drink and would be the perfect partner for a lazy Sunday morning perusing the papers.
This was one of the best blends we tried, and at just £11 for a 1kg bag, it’s incredibly well priced for such a high-quality, ethical coffee.
We’d love to know if you’ve tried any of these ethical coffee brands or if you think any other coffee companies deserve adding to the list. Please either leave us a comment below or get in touch with the team.
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